Goal Setting - Getting it Right (Part 1)

Goal Setting - Getting it Right (Part 1)

The start of a new year is a great time to think about goal setting. This document is designed to give you an good overview of best practice, and how you can make setting goals, along with appraisals, part of your complete and integrated Performance Management system.

This post is designed to give you some information on the history and purpose of goal setting, and to show you why, if not implemented properly it can go wrong.

Obviously, we also want to show you how to avoid those pitfalls and how to set meaningful goals that really drive improvement.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact the Carbon360 team.

As the article covers a lot of areas about goal setting, we have split it into two parts. You can read the second part of this article here.


Areas covered in Part 1 of this document will be;

A Brief History of Goal Setting
What does Goal Setting mean in the modern working environment

1. A Brief History of Goal Setting

Goal Setting as we now understand it came initially from psychological research into understanding the motivations behind peoples actions. It has spread into the organisational structure of many businesses, and after initially finding popularity in America, goal setting is now an integral component in performance management structures across the globe.

It has helped to both define and drive what motivates people at work, and what helps to build their job satisfaction and productivity.

Professor Edwin A. Locke is widely accredited as the father of goal setting theory. Having gained an MA in Industrial Psychology, Locke wrote his doctoral dissertation on the relationship of intentions to motivation and affect.

The theory centres around the idea that setting specific goals generates better performance than setting goals that are over-arching and vague in their focus. For example, setting a goal to complete a certain piece of work by a certain date is much more likely to be achieved that setting a goal to simply ‘work harder’.

This theory was furthered by businessmen like Paul J. Meyer who wrote about the theory of SMART goal setting in his book ‘Attitude is Everything’. He published many resources which motivate and encourage people to use setting goals as a way to reach their full potential and be successful.

Meyer began to teach success principals in his sales organisation, and has founded a corporation dedicated to ‘Motivating People to their Full Potential’.

Goal setting has since become a widely used and widely respected Performance Management tool in many businesses.

2. What Does Goal Setting Mean in the Modern Working Environment?

Since the initial idea of goal setting as beneficial to businesses and organisations as well as individuals, there has been much research conducted into the positive effects of goal setting in the motivation and engagement of staff and into the ways that this can benefit business as a whole in various ways.

According to Edwin A. Locke & Gary P. Latham in their study 'New Directions in Goals Setting Theory';

“So long as a person is committed to the goal, has the requisite ability to attain it and does not have conflicting goals, there is a positive, linear relationship between goal difficulty and task performance”.

In other words, psychological studies have shown that by setting challenging goals for employees, (provided they fulfill certain criteria) rates of achievement are greatly improved. It is with this in mind that goal setting has become such a widespread and integral part of business operations all over the world.

For example, the British Government have, as of September 1st 2012, introduced new appraisal rules for schools which state that on-going goals and targets must be set for each individual teacher.

One headmaster, Kevin Jones, (who had already realised the potential of goal setting before the new rules came in) explained that there are great achievements to be gained from good goal setting, but that it is important to go about it in the right way.

He said:

“There had previously been a prescriptive accountability culture which did not, in fact, encourage improvement. Rather it constrained freedoms and lowered ambition and creativity in the setting of goals and targets for fear of falling short”.

He has recently implemented a new, positive goal setting system, alongside 360-degree appraisals which he feels has benefited his school immensely.

So, goal setting can be great, but as with any area of performance management, or indeed business in general, there are considerations that need to be made and planning that needs to be undertaken before you embark on setting goals.

If not properly implemented, there are downsides to goal setting that could be detrimental to your business.

There are schools of thought that are very suspicious of using goal setting as a motivational tool. So before we look at how we can overcome the problems that could be caused by goal setting, let’s look at some of the opinions from people who believe goal setting to be a negative practice.

It is  from these opinions that we shall move on to see how and why best practice should be followed.

If you would like to read the second part of this article, click here.

You can find more information about goal setting with Carbon360 and our other 360 appraisal packages here.

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